October 10, 2012

Interview: Harvey Bertram-Brown Part 1

By MOFILM

Harvey Bertram Brown is an all round creative dynamo.  He started his working career in the world of fashion where he developed a unique sense of style and visual flair through his work in design and art direction that helped him to gain attention from a number of renowned advertising agencies shooting jobs for Saatchi & Saatchi, Grey and Leo Burnett amongst others.  Adding to his resume Harvey has made a name for himself shooting music videos for artists including George Michael, Girls Aloud, Bryan Ferry and Elton John.  Harvey was kind enough to take some time out of his busy schedule, to answer a few questions for us!

MOFILM: Hi Harvey, thanks for giving up your time to answer our questions, you’re a kind soul!

Harvey: It is my pleasure and I am flattered to be asked!

MOFILM:  You got into filmmaking in a slightly different way to some people…  You began your career in fashion, before moving into filmmaking a little later on, could you tell us a little about the path that took you to where you are today?

Harvey: I studied fashion for 6 years ending up doing a masters degree at The Royal College of Art.  To me fashion is not something tangible; it is a mood or an atmosphere. Fashion is as much about an image in a magazine, a shop window, a piece of music, a video, a haircut or an attitude as it is about a particular piece of clothing.

When I left college I set up a design collective with 3 other graduates from the RCA, Carolyn Corben (a textile designer) Sophie Harley (a jewellery designer) and Felicity Jury Cramp (who specialised in making eye wear). Together we were a tour de force calling ourselves The New Renaissance and creating images for pop stars, album covers, shop windows like Harvey Nichols and Liberties and also styling for music videos and commercials. We also worked for some fashion houses like Moschino in Italy and Red or Dead in UK designing and creating amazing one-off pieces and art directing fashion shows and events.

We started off our career styling and art directing for lots of other directors. Because our vision was so strong some directors allowed us to have a hand in coming up with the concepts of the video or commercial. We designed the sets, were instrumental in the casting, designed the lighting, sometimes even the made the choice of DOP and choreographer etc. Our style was very recognisable and we always put a very strong stamp of our look on any project we took on.

After a while our reel was awash with our particular New Renaissance look and even though we had worked with dozens of different directors the films had our handwriting on.  One day a director we had worked with, Paul Weiland asked if we wanted to try and direct something ourselves. We had been awarded the endorsement of another director inviting us to  “come and be one of us” and everything changed from that moment on.

Initially we were worried that we had no formal training and therefore were unqualified as such, but we realised that we had learned the industry from the inside out. We had been on so many film sets where we learned the protocol of how to make a film and we were fluent in the language of making film, and we actually knew more than enough to get started.

I have always been fascinated by film and learning about lighting, the camera and creating postproduction effects came very easily to me.  I don’t think that you ever stop learning about your craft and trying to improve on what you do, but those early days were a steep and extremely exciting learning curve.  We were very lucky to get a huge break, our first commercial was for Gordon’s Gin and the budget was classically huge at the time (those were the days!). It was very post heavy with lots of special effects achieved both in and out of camera. I am still very proud of this job. We built up our show reel very quickly from here and luckily having started on a high and got the ball rolling things have never stopped!

MOFILM:  In terms of a sense of aesthetic, the world of glossy pop videos and high fashion seem in number of ways would seem to make quite a natural match – did this transition come fairly naturally to you?  In terms of learning the basics of your trade, did you just pick it up being around that kind of environment, or was filmmaking something you’d always been interested in?

Harvey:  As I explained before, I believe that film is another ingredient in the recipe of fashion.  I try to make my work tap into the zeitgeist of popular culture and to me that is exactly what fashion is… it is what is right for right now. So I have never really made a huge distinction between fashion and the kind of work I do on film, it is part of the same bigger picture.

I still have a huge in put into the styling and design of the piece in every aspect from the clothes to the make up to the sets lighting and editing.

I consider myself as a designer although I am labelled a director (I am called many things, not all flattering).

I use the same design aesthetics when I make a film as to when I design anything like a costume or an interior for example. It is about colour, form, shape and function, it is how things move and react with their surroundings etc.

My work tends to be glossy and I aspire to making things beautiful because these are the images that appeal to me most. When I am invited to make a film it is like being given a platform to say something and the opportunity to make people listen, I would rather say something wonderful and magical than make a dark depressing comment. I guess for me there are too many dark, depressing things in the world already; I would rather add a little sparkle and happiness.

MOFILM:  Alongside your work in advertising and music videos, you’ve also worked as a Creative Director for musician’s bringing their act out on the road (Harvey was the C.D. behind the Sugababes 2008 tour, and has done similar work with Siouxsie Sioux)… in terms of modes of creative expression you’ve covered quite a lot – would you consider yourself a creatively restless person in some ways or rather just someone who enjoys doing lots of different things!

Harvey: I LOVE my work. I feel so fortunate to be able to say this with complete honesty. I truly enjoy every project that I am invited to do.  Working with artists like Siouxsie Sioux, George Michael, Elton John and Bryan Ferry etc is like a dream coming true. I thrive off their energy and their vision and it is fantastic to be invited to collaborate with people like this on any level, so I am happy to be a part of their team. They were such enormous influences on my youth as to be working with your heroes is just an honour.

Likewise the younger bands like the Sugababes, Girls Aloud or The Saturdays are fun too. I love the fact that I can be part of a creative team putting a package together and have an in put on current popular culture.

I am happy making films of videos but love the whole branding of bands today. It is just great to be working on exciting projects. Today the boundaries in media are becoming less distinct. Images that are created for a live event now translate immediately onto film (albeit digital) and so I don’t draw a clear distinction between one media and the next.

I guess I just love being busy; I am very lucky that my hobby and my interests ARE my career.

MOFILM:  Have you ever wanted to really just focus on one of the elements that you are engaged in – could you ever see a day where all your focus was on say directing, or perhaps there are more things you would like to pursue along the way?

Harvey: I think that every director has at least one story that they want to tell. I would love to indulge myself into directing longer format feature films. Having said that I haven’t really forged a clear career path and I just end up getting busy making the films that people bring to me. Luckily I have been consistently busy and continue to get busier, so why try and fix something that is clearly not broken.  I am happy! I am in discussion with people about a possible feature film, let’s see what happens…

Come back soon for the second half of this interview, in which we speak a little more to Harvey about his advice for those looking to get into filmmaking!

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